The art of French bookbinding

The 19th-century painting and sculpture gallery welcomes a new display devoted to the art of French bookbinding of the late 19th century.
Charles Meunier (1865-1940). Morocco binding, 1897. For L’Évangile de l’enfance de notre Seigneur Jésus Christ selon Saint Pierre, by Catulle Mendès (1841-1909). Paris: Armand Colin Cie. Éditeurs, 1894. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Beyond its function of protecting the core of the book, the binding, as the first point of contact with the work, acts as its visiting card, aimed at capturing attention and enticing readers. This power of seduction is put into practice through decorative techniques that are passed from generation to generation, but which seek to keep up with the developments of the day.

Charles Meunier, Morocco binding, 1908. 'Aphrodite, moeurs antiques', by Pierre Louÿs. Paris: Librairie Borel, 1896. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

The books currently on display in the 19th-century painting and sculpture gallery were selected for the richness of their bindings rather than for their contribution to literature. Here, the figure of the binder is very much in evidence: Henri Marius-Michel, Marcellin Lortic, Charles Meunier, J. Zaehnsdorf, Émile Carayon and Léon Gruel are, thus, the stars of this new display.

Marcellin Lortic, Morocco binding, 1900. 'Oeuvres: Tartarin de Tarascon; La défense de Tarascon', by Alphonse Daudet. Paris: A. Lemerre, 1886. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

The decoration of these volumes makes use of floral elements, with varying degrees of stylisation, which produce geometric patterns that at times move away from traditional naturalistic representation. Created at the end of the 19th century, these seven bindings in morocco leather are items of high artistic quality and merit our attention not just for their fronts but also for their back covers and end leaves, which incorporate materials such as silk, printed or embroidered.

Updated on 29 april 2022

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